Brother, sister doctors fight AIDS crisis in Africa
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (The Criterion) - The frustrations and the doubts sometimes gnaw at Dr. Ellen Einterz and Dr. Bob Einterz - trying to tempt the sister and brother from giving up their goals of changing minds, changing lives and even changing the world.
Listen to us, the doubts try to tell the sibling doctors who grew up in St. Matthew Parish in Indianapolis: There’s too much heartbreak in Africa, too much horror in an AIDS pandemic that devastates millions of families, and too little help in turning the tide against death and disease on that continent.
So, the doubts continue, “Why don’t you just walk away, Dr. Ellen, from your hospital in Cameroon where the people keep coming and coming with endless cases of malaria, malnutrition, cholera and AIDS? You’ve put in more than 20 years of your life in Africa. What more can anyone expect you to do?”
Then the doubts turn to Bob, a founder of what is regarded as one of the best AIDS treatment programs in Africa - the IU-Kenya Partnership between the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis and the Moi University School of Medicine in Eldoret, Kenya.
“Dr. Bob,” the doubts say, “the AIDS crisis rages on in Africa. Take a break from nearly 20 years of trying to make a difference on that continent. It’s your time to try something else.”
The doctors’ answer to the frustrations and the doubts can best be captured in a moment that Ellen experienced in Cameroon, a moment she wrote about in her ongoing newsletter to her supporters:
“One Friday night, in the middle of a howling dust storm, you are trying to start a transfusion on a gasping 7-month-old boy who appears to have not a single vein in his entire body. You are bent over him, ready to try a second or a third stick when suddenly the lights go out. In the darkness, the boy, his eyes rolled back into his head, is struggling for every breath. You could send someone into town to fetch the man who is in charge of the generator, but that would take 45 minutes.
“Or you could leave the ward and go out to the generator house and start the engine yourself, but that would take half an hour, and you don’t know whether this child has even 15 minutes of life left in him. So you ask someone to light a kerosene lamp, and by the orange glow you carry on, trying to find the elusive vein in time to keep that life under your hands from going out like the electricity.
“You find it at last, and it is not too late. The blood starts flowing, and not much later, the bony chest starts heaving a little less desperately and the grey cheeks begin to lose their ghostly pallor and finally the mother’s solemn face relaxes and streams with tears of silent joy. And it occurs to you that that must be one of the most beautiful things it is possible to witness anywhere on earth.”
The influence of family and faith
The themes of light-in-darkness, hope-against-doubt, and life-amid-death resonate through the lives of Ellen and Bob.
“We’re both helping to provide health care for some of the most desperate people of the world in sub-Saharan Africa,” Bob says.
As he talks in his office at Wishard Memorial Hospital in Indianapolis, Bob sits near Ellen. Although they share a focus on health care in Africa, this is one of those rare moments when the well-traveled, different roads of the brother and sister have led them to each other. Ellen only returns from Africa for three months every two years. Minutes ago, the conversation revolved around how Ellen literally carried Bob on her back as a child and how she taught him to read. Now, the conversation turns to the roots of their relationship as part of a family of 15, and to the roots of their desire to heal others. They both talk about the influence of their Catholic faith and their parents, Frank and Cora.
“Growing up in a family of 13 kids, you learn very quickly you are not the center of the universe,” Ellen says. “There are all kinds of people, and you have to get along. Our parents were raised in the Church, and their faith was very important to them. They let us know we are one small part of a greater world.”
They both remember their father telling them and their siblings, “We are Christ, you are Christ, our neighbor is Christ.”
“Our parents had this notion of teaching us to live our faith and live out our faith rather than wearing it on our sleeves,” Bob notes. “We are given gifts, and we have expectations to use those gifts. Those are lessons from our faith and our parents.”
A different path
That faith and guidance have steered them both in the direction of Africa, a continent where more than 17 million people have died from AIDS and another 25 million are infected with the virus, according to DATA, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about the AIDS crisis.
Bob and Ellen also know that the disease has infected nearly 2 million African children, and 12 million African children have lost one or both parents to AIDS.
One of Bob’s greatest fears is that future generations will look back on the AIDS ...
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